Online Dating Scam — Field Notes

Online Dating Scam — Field Notes

Okay, this has happened twice. Time to say something. I don’t know if it happens to guys (probably), but here’s what it looked like for an older, heterosexual woman:

OMG. Dreams DO come true! This amazing guy contacts you. He’s beyond your wildest dreams…handsome, cosmopolitan–and European, experienced with the world in ways you aren’t, fun, and very very interested in getting to know you. He’s protective before he’s even met you, worrying that you might be working too hard or that you were at risk with some minor bold thing you mentioned doing.

He gushes about how wonderful you are–ordinary you!–and goes on and on about your beauty (heady balm coming from a guy 7 years younger than you). At his most polished, he transports you to a romantic world that leaves you breathless with delight. He gets me!

When executed by someone less practiced, it comes across a bit more like clunky job interview–lot’s of questions in quick sequence without much chance to reply. But you see that as his earnestness about wanting to know more and still buy in. And you give him the benefit of the doubt with the way he phrases things because “he wasn’t born here”.

He hits all the right notes: He wants a deep, loving, trusting relationship. He wants to make you his queen. He wants to give you the finest things in life–and has the money to do that. He wants to travel all over the world with YOU.

But…. he’s busy with important things. So he can’t meet. He wants your phone number and email so you can “go faster” than with the messaging the dating app provides. He promises you will meet “soon”….when his work situation calms down….when he’s had time to tie up this important deal….when he has this big professional event he’s working on planned.

Before “soon” arrives, there’s an emergency, perhaps due to what he’s attempting with his exotic business. Before “soon”, you will have developed enough of an appetite for his attention that you’re tempted to give him that money. Very tempted, even if you’ve been 60% sure it’s a scam from the very beginning.

This romance is not something online dating can do for you. Online dating is just a way to MEET people you want to date. You have to take it from there to build a relationship. If your dream guy is suddenly there and acting like you two are in fully committed relationship as just an online dating profile, you’re not looking at the real thing.

You have to meet before you know if it’s going to go anywhere. When you get wound up in a 100% online romance, you’ve taken a detour into Fantasyland. IT IS NOT REAL. And don’t think that because he has a business website and/or a LinkedIn profile it confirms what he told that he’s legitimate. ALL of it can be faked.

Don’t blow off discrepancies. First he spouts Bible verses like a devout fundamentalist Christian, then he says he’s a lapsed Catholic who hasn’t been to church since his wife died five years ago. His profile says he’s 6’3 but when you ask him, he says he’s 5’10. He sends you a photo (of someone else) and says he’s making coffee in his office when the kitchen pantry is open right behind him. We all want to give people the benefit of the doubt with little mistakes. But if they keep happening, pay attention. If the person running the scam is part of a big operation, they’re going to have trouble keeping the details straight. If they’re operating in a foreign country, the difference between what we call an “office” and a “kitchen” might not be apparent.

Be wary of a guy whose use of English is off. I’ve communicated online with an “Italian” and a “German” who both turned out to be fake. Neither was good with English, particularly grammar and syntax. I tolerated this, because “he wasn’t born here.” But looking back, that wasn’t justified. Both had mentioned that their last 30 or more years had been spent in English speaking countries and that they ran successful businesses there. You have to speak good English to do that. I’ve also met real online dates, one who left Hungary at age 13 and one who arrived from Kenya about 10 years ago,. Both spoke perfect English. This is not about “spurning immigrants”.  It’s about paying attention to whether his backstory and his performance match.

Be sure he’s still on the dating site. If you suddenly can’t find his profile when you go to remind yourself of something in it, get suspicious. He might have taken it down so you can’t check details or the dating site may have recognized it wasn’t a legitimate profile. If his (her) profile disappears, back away! Also be wary if he wants to jump to texting or email right away instead of using the messaging site for your initial interaction. Messaging on the site it safer.

Don’t buy excuses for not meeting in person. He may claim he wants to wait so that meeting to be special (and then wax eloquent about how he will treat you when the time comes). He may say he’s swamped with work and just doesn’t have time right now. He may claim he’s stuck in a foreign country. (This one is a great set-up for the pitch–“I need money to get home because….” .) When you push him to meet, he (she) will accuse you of not trusting him as a deep relationship demands–to make you think you are wrong. Real date material wants to meet you. Neither of you have anything to gain by doing the pen pal routine any longer than it takes to decide if you are interested in meeting each other.

The first time this happened to me, I was too curious to walk away quickly. I sensed it was very likely a scam, but I wanted to know how it worked. Was it a group doing it or just one sociopathic romeo? Does a scammer request photos from his marks (which both did) so he can use them to create personas for new cons? Was a woman or man the mastermind? (I’m guessing women write the scripts. They are uncanny in saying what women deeply want to hear.) Was it a foreign operation or a homegrown version of despicable?

When it happened again a few days ago, I only had one question: Am I being romanced to finance a Russian troll farm? Are some “troll farmers” spending their entire shifts cooing sweet nothings in the electronic ears of well-heeled older Americans looking for love online and vulnerable in their generosity. (Yeah….repulsive.)

I don’t have answers to any of these questions, and it’s wiser to leave it at that. The more important thing is sound the alarm so you don’t get caught up in it in the first place.

If the situation is a full blown romance before you’ve even met–and the other person keeps postponing meeting, shut it down and move on. The longer you let it go on, the more tempted you’ll be to give him (her) that money when the inevitable pitch comes. JUST STOP!

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